Blood, sweat and bouncy castles

It’s Sunday afternoon and I appear to be stuck immovably to my sofa, nursing a large mug of tea. Every bit of me hurts and it’s all self-inflicted.

Yesterday, some friends and I did a 5k obstacle/assault challenge which involved jogging through wet fields, down muddy tracks, running over, under and around obstacles, being chased by sheep, sliding down water chutes, and wobbling over balance beams. We were soaked through, smeared with hay, mud and sheep poo…I was (genuinely!) having the most fun I’d had in ages!

….Until we got to the bouncy castle at the end.

No big deal, thought I, throwing myself at it. I pushed through the inflatable rollers, wriggled around bouncy bollards…and then just as I (foolishly) believed the end was in sight, I got to the exit.

Looming ahead was a 6ft bouncy wall, covered in mud and water. There was no physical way to actually heave myself over it independently and the others in front were being pulled by two men at the top…and shoved below on the bum by their girlfriends.

Above me I could see bums sticking in the air and a whole lot of sweaty-faced girls, screaming, slipping and looking horribly undignified. Add into the mix my rather short legs and inability to take great leaps, well, this just seemed like an indignity too great to bear.

I cannot do this, said inner Paula, but I knew I didn’t have much choice. My friend Shazzer was beside me and so I threw myself with abandon at the slippy wall of death, as she grabbed my feet and gave me a good shove. But my filthy, soggy shoes had no grip and 2 attempts later, I was face to face with the floor, smeared in mud and shame.

By this point, there is a queue building behind me, the pressure is rising, I make a third attempt (with Shazzer’s help) and again land in a heap…right beside a mass of other girls, all facing the same predicament.

And then I hear someone yelling, ‘Come ON Girls….you CAN DO IT’. It’s my friend Sian, on the other side (other side of the bouncy castle…not the afterlife, just to clarify…I wasn’t at the point of seeing bright lights and hearing dead relatives beckon).

I could hear the encouragement but I still felt defeated…and then I saw to the right, a groove in the side of the bouncy wall….somewhere to dig my foot in and get a foothold. I knew it….I COULD do it. This would NOT defeat me!

In one clear shot, I was up, within arm reach of the two (rather hunky) men, up, over and OUT. Red-faced, dirtier than I’d ever been…but who cared….freedom is indeed a beautiful thing.

1 minute later, I was over the finish line and there was Sian waving me on. ‘I could see you were struggling to get over….so I prayed for you’ she said.
Thank God for praying friends, eh?

The point to all this? Sometimes we’re blinded by the wall in front of us; the fear, the insecurity, the sense that there’s no exit. And sometimes it’s just a kind word or a praying friend which helps you to see the real truth; HEY, hold on, there IS a way out of this. You CAN finish, you CAN make it through.

No matter what the ‘wall’ is, whether it’s a bouncy one or something much more catastrophic, there’s always a way through.

Hang in there.

Hebrews 12

The thin girl within…

This afternoon I was having a bit of a clear out and came across some old photos; photos I’d prefer never saw the light of day again…specifically, photos of me in days past, heavier, fatter, unhappier.

They say that every woman has an inner fat girl trying to fight her way out.
In my student years and 20s, the reverse was true for me….I had an inner thin girl who wanted to make her escape and be seen by the world. Instead she was locked away, buried under too much travelling and irregular hours, too many late night KFCs and too many moments of thinking food could make me feel better.

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Looking back now, I wonder how it ever got that bad…but like most things in life, it just crept up on me, unawares.

Until one day I woke up, with an epiphany moment; this is NOT who I am. It’s not who I want to be, it’s not who God made me to be. And from that point, I decided it was time to lose some flab and become the person I felt that I really was.

5 stone later, I’m still working on it and trying to finish the project….but it’s made me think recently about who I was made to be, who God made me to be. There’s stuff on the inside, that is still trying to fight its way out.

Perhaps we all have an inner ‘something’; an inner painter, writer, sculptor, preacher, pastor?

What’s your ‘inner’? What stops you from being who you were designed to be?

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A lovely gooey sunset…and a chance encounter…

On Sunday, I whizzed up the motorway for a last-minute-organised family lunch and later, in a bid to walk off the roast potatoes, Dad and I went for a walk.

As we wandered around the edge of the fields, having a deep and meaningful chat, the sun was setting in the distance looking like a golden, gooey, delicious ball of light.

As we stopped for a minute and watched the orangey, syrupy colours spread over the horizon, a man came out of a nearby house and joined us. ‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ He said.

We got into chit chat. Dad asked him if he’d lived around there long. Turns out he was 86, had lived on the same street for 40 years and in his younger days, had been a rivet fixer on the Liverpool shipyards. He’d climb into huge ship bays and make sure every nut and bolt was watertight – he’d lived through the war, rations, bombings and many difficult times.

We got back onto the subject of the sunset and dad (a.k.a super evangelist) remarked that it was part of God’s beautiful creation. The man agreed and I saw Dad’s hand reach into the pocket….wait for it…out came an ever-ready tract, one called ‘Do you believe in chance?’ Dad explained what it was, the chap thanked him and we moved on.

That’s what I love about my Pa. Sharing his faith is like breathing to him; he never misses an opportunity. His pockets always have a ready-supply of little tracts, ready for any moment.
It’s not pious or show offy, it’s just who my dad is. He’s had a life changing experience, so why wouldn’t he share it???

I said to him later, ‘that’s what I love about you…you’re always ready’. He replied, ‘You never know when a person might be having their last day on earth….I’d hate for them to not know.’

I thought about it later, how seemingly insignificant details like me insisting that we go for a walk, led to us stopping for a minute to look at a sunset….just as a man walked out of his garden…led to dad talking to him about Jesus.

Had we stopped further down the path, this chap wouldn’t have seen us or talked to us. If we’d left the house 20 minutes later, the sun might have set and we wouldn’t have stopped….and so on.

I like the idea that every small (seemingly unimportant) action could lead to a significant experience or encounter, that could change a person’s life….

Lessons from a naked statue…

Last year, we drove out to Crosby Beach to see the Antony Gormley exhibition, ‘Another Place’.

If you haven’t seen it;  it’s basically 100 solid iron dude statues, dotted along the beach, all staring out to Sea, to ‘Another place’.

The sculptor himself said;  “The seaside is a good place to do this….these artforms are no heroes, no ideals, just the industrially reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe….”

Weird, haunting, beautiful….’other’.

I was thinking about it this morning.    I remember that day specifically, because I was facing some unique pressures and had a lot of stuff in my head.

Being at the Sea has always helped me clear my thoughts, and so that blustery day, I stood next to one of the statues and faced what ‘he’ faced;  huge expanse of water, wind, sand, seagulls, stillness.   If a statue could think, what were his thoughts?

My thoughts were a jumble of lots of different things;

…awe at the waves

…smallness in the face of a powerful wind

…amazement at how life and nature keeps moving forward, even when our lives are stuck or seemingly in freefall.

Through it all,  the universe and the creative mind behind it, remains constant;  the tide still comes in;  the tide still goes out.

And if the Creator cares enough to make the tide come in and go out, to make the rain fall and the Sun to rise and the moon to set…..

…then, logically (to me at least!), He has to care about me too.

That’s what Matthew 6:28-30 says too.

Worry, fear, stress and anxiety are all part of life sometimes, but Jesus always points us back to a bigger, better way.

He says, ‘Why are you SO stressed out? If God cares enough to dress the flowers in all their INCREDIBLE colours, or make sure the birds get fed every day….then what makes you think He won’t look after you too?’

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the ‘stuff’ life chucks at me – but it does mean there is a higher power, still in control at the (crazy) wheel of life.

That thought alone, was enough to clear my head just a little, and give me hope for the next part of the journey.

Crosby Beach

Picture 1 @ freefoto.com

Don’t stop running….

I’m on week 6 of a training schedule at the moment. I’ve done a few sponsored runs before, but I wanted this one to be different. So for once, instead of just turning up on the day, having done a bit of vague flapping about in the weeks beforehand, I decided to do it properly and actually train. Genius idea, eh?

Anyway, tonight I decided to hit the trail behind the house. It was windy, cold and shockingly sunny (sun in England, is always a bit of a shock) and I didn’t know where I was headed…just vaguely hoping to avoid too much uphill stuff and oh, avoid sliding into the muddy sewer which I’m fairly sure is nearby.

I avoided both…and on the way home, as I rounded the corner, this was my view;

Evening run

I slowed, stopped and took a few pictures…but while the dazzling sunshine was lovely, it was the path which caught my eye.

The path ahead, which winds round a corner, leading to where?

I’ll hardly be the first to draw a parallel between physical running and my spiritual/God journey….but it really is true.

As I felt the sun’s warmth on my (already glowing/beetroot) face, I caught a few heaving breaths and realised that yep, no matter what happens, I HAVE to keep running.

If I look behind me, I’ll trip up.

If I look to the side, I’ll lose my balance and possibly end up in the sewer.

If I look ahead, to the horizon, to the next thing just around the corner, I should actually be ok.

And to be fair, that’s effectively what it says in the Bible too.

So, if you’re at risk of stopping/failing/looking behind/giving up….don’t.

Keep looking ahead. Don’t stop running.

Never forsaken, never forgotten.

Ever feel like you’re being squeezed? Between a rock and a hard place? Stuck in the middle? Or any other metaphor for just simply going through a rubbish time? Yes…me too…especially at the moment.

The details aren’t important, but last week after a few days of (unsuccessfully) navigating my way through things, stuff came to a head on Sunday. I woke up, looking forward to church a lot, but still aware of Doom & Gloom hovering nearby.

I come from a long line of good old- fashioned girl troopers – we never let a case of the doom & glooms stop us from moving forward – but I still heard myself say out loud, ‘Lord, I could really do with some help here’.

It’s not always this instantaneous but on Sunday it was, clear as a bell; ‘Read Psalm 119’.

So I did and here’s the bits that jumped out at me;

“I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse! Get me on my feet again. You promised, remember? Help me understand these things inside and out so I can ponder your miracle-wonders. (Psalm 119:25)”

And then the clincher – a similar nudge to read Psalm 115, which starts with a graphic picture of idols; they don’t have ears so they cannot hear, their mouths are painted so they cannot speak….but no, no, no, NOT like OUR God….He sees, He hears, He speaks.

It ends with this gorgeous thought;

“He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, Seats them among the honoured guests, a place of honour among the brightest and best.

But you, put your trust in God ! Trust your Helper! Trust your Ruler! Clan of Aaron, trust in God ! Trust your Helper! Trust your Ruler! You who fear God, trust in God ! Trust your Helper! Trust your Ruler!”

Hope started to rise – not hope for anything specific, but just hope that God would come through. He hears, He sees and He speaks.

Later that night, I drove over to a friend’s house and despite the hope of those amazing verses, I had another honest chat with God on the way. I was waiting at some lights and said out loud, ‘I’d love it if you could speak to me tonight….that’d be great.’

And so, S and I walked into church and they sang a song I’d not heard before; Not for a moment, not for a moment…did you forsake me’ and the whole theme of the service was on God’s promises, His enduring faithfulness, His utter reliability, even when we can’t see or feel Him.

As I listened to the preach, it was like God was saying; ‘That’s what I wanted you to hear….’

All in all, a pretty amazing response to an early morning prayer of ‘Lord, you’ll have to help me out here’.

So, what’s the score and point of all this? My summing up is a mix-match of lots of thoughts…but principally this; if you’re being squeezed, don’t give up. Hang on. Throw everything at God, be honest, involve Him in every detail….and ask, ask, ask (again and again) for help.

And if that doesn’t work; Rinse and Repeat. Rinse and Repeat. Till it does.

I believe and know He’s a real life God who has ears, eyes and a mouth that speaks. Even if our situations never change, even if we can’t hear or see Him, not for a single moment does He forsake us…just like the song says…

I wish to complain (in a non-complaining sort of way…)

A few months ago, I was driving through Manchester one Sunday night (dad in the passenger seat) when we stopped at some lights. And there suddenly in front of us was a HUGE billboard – emblazoned with just one word. I’ll not tell you what the word was, except that (to me, at least) it’s ugly and offensive.

Dad spluttered slightly and there was a momentary silence, while we tried to work out what message the billboard was trying to convey.

In the end, we concluded it was designed to be a shock tactic, but even hours later, I was still irritated by it. I googled (with some trepidation) and discovered it was advertising a ‘bold’ energy drink.

‘Bold and classy’ said the website.

Whatever.

Anyway, I’m not one for petitions and complaining to government departments, but the more I read on their website, the more annoyed I felt. So, feeling a little like one of those indignant complaining types, (which I’m not) I hammered out a complaint to the Powers-That-Be (also known as the ASA).

I didn’t really know what to say, but tried to explain that I wasn’t really annoyed that the product existed or that it had an offensive name. I was more annoyed that a ‘bold’ advert had the power to figuratively burst into my car with its nasty language and create an awkward, embarrassing moment between my passengers and I.

In my view, that is not ok. That is way beyond what an advert should be able to do.

And as it turned out, the ASA took it seriously too – I found out this week that 144 other people also objected, the complaint was upheld and the ad can’t be used again in its current form.

You could argue that this ‘suppression’ of the drink’s advert will only drive more people to the product. Maybe it will! But, I still wanted to say, ‘Hey…I don’t like that’ and feel like someone heard me.

And it was heard. It reminded me that sometimes, ordinary citizens DO have a voice.

If we pick our battles wisely, and exercise grace, perhaps we CAN make a difference?

P.s if you really want to know what the ad was about, here’s the ruling.

There must be more than this…

If I could sum up my week in one sentence, it would be; There must be more than this.

Before anyone thinks I’m clinging to a cliff-edge, I’m not (phew!)…lemme explain.

I’m super fortunate to work where I do. I love that if we have someone filming in the building, that it’s ok to down tools and go and watch/listen.

One of this week’s speakers was Simon Foster, a guy who at one point represented Ireland at Eurovision, was big time into show business. His story is one of freedom from abuses, a life he didn’t want and many other things – he’s now married with a daughter, working as a pastor in Bristol.

His theme was that we’ve lost sight of Jesus. We can be SO caught up in life and conflict and stresses, that we struggle to see things in the radical way Jesus did/does. The only reason he knows is because he lived in a world that hated the church and all it stood for. People in his circle were genuinely gasping for a spiritual drink…but at church? Nah…not a chance. Why would you go to church, to only be judged?

Simon reached his absolute lowest point…and then, he found Jesus.

Yesterday, as if to smack me round the chops further, I finally got round to watching a short film on YouTube by Dan Baumann. My dad emailed me a version, earlier in the week and it took me till Thursday, to finally get around to watching it. Dan is a guy who was imprisoned in Iran and after reaching his ultimate low (and trying to kill himself in his cell) had a vision of Jesus which changed his life forever.

The theme again….more, more…there MUST be more than this.

Both of these chaps told stories about an encounter with Jesus which changed everything, changed the way they thought, loved, lived…it all became about Jesus; the Mighty Lion Aslan, the one who dies, moves stones and comes back to life, the one raises the dead, who forgives the worst sinners, who heals and restores… all without barely batting an eyelid.

But, the truth is…He’s not always easily found. The uncomfortable truth is that to really (and I mean really find Him, I’ve got to come to the end of myself. There’s got to be no place else left to go.

Dan Baumann says that all of life is about intimacy – everything we go through is about getting closer to Jesus. And when we do, we learn this massive lesson, there IS more than this…so much, much more.

Please take 10 minutes to watch Dan’s story. If you’re anything like me, it’ll change the way you think.

A horrible dream…

I had a really busy day yesterday and ended it at the gym, determined to take out my stresses on the poor old treadmill, rather than take them home.

Exercise, in a weird way, is a bit like worship to me. I plug myself into my iPod and get lost in the moment. Sometimes I think, sometimes I pray, though lots of times I mostly just sweat like a wildebeast and whine for 24 hours about how ‘everythiiiiiinnnngggggg hurts’.

But I digress, because yesterday there were a couple of pressing situations in my head and I found myself asking God, ‘Lord, where ARE you in all of this….how come I can’t see what you’re doing??’

No answer.

Went home, ate dinner, yacked on the phone for ages and I finally fell into bed, headfirst into a really horrible dream.

I was all tangled up in a thick, sleeping bag and an evil force was sitting on top of me, trying to shove the sleeping bag down my throat. I was fighting to get away and kept hearing this weird voice say, ‘We’re going to kill her…we’re going to kill her’. 

I lay stock still (in the dream) figuring that playing dead might help, but as soon as I wriggled, the shoving and suffocating started again. In my head was this thought, ‘if I can call out to Jesus, this will go away…’ But the ‘force’ prevented me from talking and I couldn’t get out a word.

I woke up, seconds later, gasping and *just* managing to hurl out the words, ‘Jesus…HELP’.

I’m not one for getting ‘spooked’ but this was SO vivid, I felt a bit rattled. Took a few deep breaths as I fully emerged into consciousness and looked at my phone to see what time it was; 3.10am. 

In an attempt to orient myself again with the real world, I clicked on the Facebook app and this was the first thing that appeared (took a screenshot, first thing when the alarm went off this morn, to prove it!!)

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It just reminded me (because it CAN be easy to forget) that life IS a battle, often against things we cannot see.

We can ask God where He is in a situation, but sometimes, things occur not because He isn’t there, but because you’re coming face to face with evil.

I was always taught to believe that when this happens, be encouraged. If the devil’s got you on his ‘person of interest’ list, that’s a GOOD thing.

I’d rather not be half-suffocated in a sleeping bag, but I woke up feeling oddly up-beat.

At least I know who wins in the end.

The craziness of God’s plan…

Tonight, nestled in the postbox was a red, white and blue airmail envelope. I knew instantly who it was from – my long, lost pal Sonya, who lives and works on the Thai/Burma border.

I met Sonya about 8 years ago. As things do, we just clicked and over time, we had lots of great chats about love, life, the universe and where our lives were headed.

Sonya also often talked about the Karen people; political refugees on the Thai/Burma border. She’d read something about them and a strange thing happened in her heart….she just wanted to help. But, she couldn’t just pack in her job and head to an un-known country, could she?

No experience, no money, few contacts and yet, despite it all not long after, Sonya was off. She took the biggest risk of her life, gave up her job and house and raced after a dim but certain calling.

It was an insane time – I went to visit her in Chaing Mai and we had a great week of chats, elephant rides and amazing food, but for Sonya at least, despite having taken a huge leap of faith, something was missing. Had she made the right choice in going? What was God doing? Had she imagined the whole thing?

And then the fuzzy jigsaw pieces began to fit into place.

One day in the refugee camp, Sonya’s eyes locked with those of Tah Doh Moo; a widower, refugee and from all accounts, an amazing, lovely man.

Soon, they were married and today, Sonya is mum to 4 step children and 2 children of their own. She and Tah Doh Moo are serving God in the camps, taking in medical supplies and Tah Doh Moo has just been elevated to the Executive Committee of the Karen National Union – making him one of the top 11 leaders for the Karen people.

And to think, it all started with something Sonya read somewhere, and a little gem of a desire began to unfurl in her life.

This shouts so loudly to me of God’s goodness – that even when we think He is silent or He leads us down a strange path, He’s still there, still working all things together for MY good.

This is a God who simply, never fails.

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